Monday, June 14, 2010

Using Computers for Differentiation

I have worked with Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Math program before, and I have to say I like it much better than its reading counterpart.

Accelerated Reading is meant to differentiate reading by giving students points for reading books "at their level" and then taking quizzes on them. Time and time again, I see students frustrated by the lack of choice in their books, or motivated only by the prospect of points. Sometimes, these students seem to discover more things they enjoy reading- but usually, they just want to Silly String the principal at the end of the year. The program seems, to me, to actively kill a love for reading and make quiz scores the reason for reading. I can appreciate that it levels students and promotes choosing books at instructional level, but I firmly believe that a student who learns to enjoy reading for intrinsic rewards will become a better reader than one who is in it "for the points."

Accelerated Math, though, is a little different. It would not work as your entire math program, at least not without constant small group lessons, but I think it works as a nice supplement, and here's why:

Annie's class has just finished learning about fractions, but she hasn't quite gotten it yet. Unfortunately, the class mostly got it and is moving on to learning about telling time. Annie's math learning and math practice will focus mostly on telling time, and she won't really spend time on fractions anymore, meaning that she probably won't learn the skills she needs.

With Accelerated Math as a supplement, Annie's teacher could assign her the objectives she needs to still work on, such as fractions. Accelerated Math will then print an individualized practice page for Annie based on what she needs to work on. Her answers are scored on a ScanTron style sheet and scored through a little scanner right here in our room so that the computer program can determine if Annie has done well enough to take a test, or if she needs more practice. The teacher also gets a report of how all students are doing, so that any students who need extra help can be worked with in small groups for re-teaching while everyone else works on practicing skills.

I find it works very well for reviewing through the year, too, so that a student doesn't forget information by the end of the year. You can also include standards above grade level for benchmark students' enrichment.

The options for differentiated math practice are great, and my students last year found the scanning process extremely motivating. There are challenges, though; for 2nd graders, transferring your answer to a score sheet without any mistakes takes a lot of practice. Students also need one scanning sheet for Practice pages and one scanning sheet for Tests, which can get confusing. Some students will rush through the pages to get to the scanning part. Finally, it takes a ton of paper (and time) to constantly print out the practice pages needed for each individual.

This is the first time I will be running Accelerated Math 'on my own,' so I'll try to let you know how it goes this summer. It's a bit of a complicated process, but I'm hoping I'll be able to match each student with what they truly need to practice the most!

P.S.- Accelerated Math's reviews have been mixed, and I think success probably depends on how it is used.
P.P.S.- If you have Accelerated Math but have trouble figuring out how to use it, this may be a helpful resource.

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